Tuesday 31 October 2023

A Morning without Rain, Halloween Traditions Old & New

On the last day of October we are definitely in autumnal landscapes and we have actually woken to a morning when it is not raining! Such a relief to have blue skies after days of horrendously heavy rain, making the whole farm soggy and surrounded by the sound of dripping from all the roofs. The birds are singing too so they must be happy the rain has ceased. Last week the Farmer, Elder Son and Elder Grandson took themselves off to the annual Welsh Dairy Event which is held in our county town of Carmarthen and they came back after a very good informative day but saying all everyone is talking about is the rain and the effect it is having on the farms. The weather of course is not the only subject of discussion though it looms large. Get dairy farmers together and there is much talk of milk prices, feed prices and the prospective increases, of each. Milk price increases are a Very Good Thing but the increased cost of bought-in feedstuffs is not. While everyone will have made plenty of silage during the summer there is still a quantity of supplementary feed required and as the ingredients are bought on the world market prices are volatile and ever changing and organic feed is always rather more expensive than conventionally grown.
Tonight is Halloween and the grandchildren have been busy making their pumpkin lanterns. When we were children we made 'howkit neeps' being good Scottish children, carving out swedes rather than pumpkins which had not seen in this country until very recently. They are an American import, along with the appalling 'trick or treat'. Halloween has been highjacked by excessive commercialism (I'm becoming a grumpy old granny!!) and I find it a pity. I am all for keeping things simple and as uncommercial as possible and certainly dislike turning a old tradition into a grasping, somewhat threatening activity which has very little to with its origins in the ancient pagan celebration of Samhain which means 'summer's end'. It was Christianised into All Saint's Day which commemorated the souls of the dead.Samhain also marked the time when cattle and sheep were led down from the summer pastures to their winter quarters. In Wales this day is known as Nos Calan Gaeaf, the First day of Winter. In South Wales there was tradition that boys and men went around houses wearing women's clothing singing a song about the 'White Lady'. They were know as the 'gwarchad' or hags and wore sheepskins, ragged clothes and mask. After doing the rounds of the houses in the village or hamlet they would gather at the farm and have a supper called 'the mash of nine sorts' which was stew made from a variety of vegetables mashed up with salt, pepper and milk. The sacred number nine made this a special feast for All Hallow's Night. Another aspect of my Scottish upbringing is the old game of 'dooking for apples'which originated as a hearthside game once the apple harvest was safely in and may be connected to the ancient story of a journey across water to obtain the magic apple from Emhain Ablach or the Otherworld Island of Apples. Halloween is also the night when the Wild Hunt rides through the skies led by Gwynn ap Nudd, the King of the Faeries, or Herne the Hunter as he is known in England, leading the pack of white hounds with red eyes and ears.

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